I feel like the metal community, as a whole, should club together and get Germany’s Suidakra a dozen roses or a nice box of chocolates or something to apologise and show our appreciation. Over the course of two decades and eleven studio albums, they’ve done nothing but give and have never asked for anything in return, consistently releasing new material at a gruelling pace without any compromise to quality (having generally improved with age, if anything). For all that heroic effort though, they’ve maintained a frustratingly low public profile, that of a cult act at the very best, and even that’s a dubious claim. Even if it isn’t the best album I’ve heard so far this year, I doubt there’s one I’d urge readers to buy, preferably in the glossiest limited digipack edition possible, as strongly as “Eternal Defiance,” as much to redress Suidakra’s karmic fortunes as for its quality.
But you should get “Eternal Defiance” for its quality too, because it’s really really good. As good as any folk or melodic death metal to come out in the last several years, in truth. Suidakra have spent their career working to marry the incisive rhythms and sleek dual harmonies of old-school heavy metal with the grandiose evocations of melodic death and more high-minded folk metal, and by this point they do so with a tightness and precision that could shame even their better known peers in Ensiferum. Orchestral stings, bagpipes and female guest vocals embellish the riffage and imbue the album with a cinematic flair (Neil Marshall’s “Centurion” was playing itself vividly in my head throughout), but even stripped down to its most fundamental elements, “Eternal Defiance” is a lean, tightly focused delivery system for intense, hungry guitar work, flowing effortlessly between epic, Viking-flavoured tremolo picking and triplet-based chugging that happily stands alongside modern American power metal acts like Pharaoh or Twisted Tower Dire. It’s a heavy, fiery record that tempers its vengeful tumult with deft, organically applied melodic hooks. It’s practically a blueprint for what a good metal album should sound like in the 21st century.
Like “Crógacht” and “Book of Dowth” before it, “Eternal Defiance” is a concept album, this time drawing upon Roman history to tell the story of Macsen, a commander in the Roman military who is inducted into Celtic society (this story is itself narrated by proxy by way of an entity which manifests itself to three Knights Hospitaller in a 13th century Saracen siege – a bit of a circuitous and esoteric narrative structure for a 45-minute album, but the ambition is commendable nevertheless). This gives Suidakra license to bookend the record with an orchestral intro (“Storming the Walls”) and outro (“Damnatio Memoriae”), giving a sense of symmetry and closure to the proceedings.
Otherwise, besides the acoustic ballad “The Mindsong,” lead by the clean vocals of Tina Stabel, “Eternal Defiance” is a perfect storm of pummelling melodic metal with hardly a single bar that’s not infectious. There are a few particular standouts, certainly. “Inner Sanctum” has its deafening opening with drums, guitars, orchestrations and frontman Arkadius Antonik’s leonine growls coming in staggered, syncopated hits that sound like God choreographing meteorite impacts – I can’t imagine anyone not being compelled to headbang to this. “Beneath the Red Eagle” features Antonik and Stabel trading vocal lines in one of modern metal’s better “beauty and the beast” pairings. The whole back half of “Dragon’s Head” is a furious rush of lead and rhythm guitars working in perfect synchrony. But really, there’s hardly a note out of place anywhere. One element which is conspicuously absent, as in all of Suidakra’s albums, is the implementation of showy solos, but these tracks are so exquisitely crafted that I can’t imagine anyone missing them.
To any metal fans who might disregard melodic death metal for being too diluted or folk metal for being too cheesy; give “Eternal Defiance” a chance to change your mind. It operates firmly within the established parameters of those genres, but whatever foibles might be laid at their feet are swept away in Suidakra’s rush of pure energy. The one criticism I might level at it is that taken on its own, it feels a bit slight; disregarding the intro, the outro and the ballad, there are only seven tracks of actual metal here, comprising just a little over half an hour. Still, precedent suggests that it we’ll get another album like it in a couple of years at the most, courtesy of Antonik’s workaholic tendencies. It doesn’t go unappreciated.
01) Storming the Walls
02) Inner Sanctum
03) Beneath the Red Eagle
04) March of Conquest
05) Pair Dadeni
06) The Mindsong
07) Rage for Revenge
08) Dragon’s Head
09) Defiant Dreams
10) Damnatio Memoriae